Spring 2014 Anime – Midseason Impressions

Let me start by apologizing for decreasing the frequency of my weekly anime discussions. I felt like I’d rather give each anime this season some time to simply develop, and keep my smaller opinions to myself until we arrived at the halfway point of the season, and here we are! This season had a lot of surprises. In fact, some of that which soured my taste, ended up pleasantly surprising me yet again. I am following an unprecedented amount of anime for myself this time, but I also feel very satisfied with what this season offered so far. I will also be throwing in a couple awards to certain anime that did things that I felt should be acknowledged. So, as always, I’m going to list them leading up to my favorite of the season, and I’m starting with what will unfortunately be dropped from here on out.

Dragon Ball Kai

*Award for most squeaky man voices in one battle scene*

Synopsis: This season starts off after the defeat of Cell where it jumps forward a few years. Goten and Trunks are the newest Saiyans and everyone is entering the World Martial Arts Tournament for a happy week of fighting. But there’s a more sinister contestant in the tournament who will throw the Z warriors into another battle involving a sorcerer capable of mind control.

At first I completely ignored Dragon Ball Kai. I have already seen Dragon Ball. I enjoyed it. It’s not one of my favorites but it used to be. It wasn’t until I saw some positive reception and read the they changed some scenes to fit the manga that I thought, “Maybe my childhood would be rediscovered.” Furthermore, the current episodes were from my favorite DBZ arc, the Majin Buu arc. (Majin Vegeta in particular.) Unfortunately, It became apparent it wouldn’t be good for me from the moment the music reverted back to the underdeveloped musical score of the classic Dragon Ball Z instead of Bruce Falconer’s pumping contributions of later years. Then the characters spoke, and I just couldn’t take it. Everyone sounded like the loud neighbor boy I hear outside my window everyday. I do still think that DBZ is the only anime I prefer the dubbed, and re-orchestrated version of. Dragon Ball Kai did not change my mind on this .

Akuma No Riddle

*Award for demonstrating the most ways of how not to survive getting assassinated*

Synopsis: Tokaku is a brilliant assassin who is part of a fake “school group” of girls who’s mission is to assassinate Haru, one of their own. Moreover, each and every girl besides Haru is a professional assassin of sorts. Tokaku, follows her heart and decides to protect Haru from the others, developing a crush on her in the process.

Akuma no Riddle has a style that caught my eye by the tone, summary, and art before I even started the series. Episode one was enjoyable, starting with a flashy training scene of the main heroine and having a lot of characters with high amounts of bad-ass potential. Unfortunately, everything that followed played out as idiotic mediocrity that would insult any assassin’s intellegence. Nobody is smart in this anime. NOBODY. Not even the teacher. Maybe that guy with the dice that has the most foreboding presence, but I’m not going to stick around for that one plot point while everyone else follows logic that would get them killed in any type of conflict. I wasn’t surprised by any battle, nor was I thrilled. More like I was gasping in disbelief as each successive action scene only proved that despite being professional, these assassins’ moments of genius all fell flat. Haru continually gets sucked into one measly scheme to the next, even going as far as asking why this girl is acting so weird. Maybe because that girl PERSONALLY gave you a note stating her intent to attempt to murder you. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Absurdity knows no bounds in this anime, and what I thought would be a battle royale full of ruthless, cold, calculating bad-asses turned into elementary attempts at looking cool and smart while killing.

Captain Earth

*Award for beating Sokka from Avatar on having the character that obsesses the most over a boomerang*

Synopsis: Daichi is a young boy who’s destiny is thrust upon him as he follows in his fathers footsteps and discovers what it’s like to be a Captain defending earth, as well as reigniting old mysteries of friends that he rediscovers, and thought he had once ultimately lost.

It’s with a heavy heart that I finally retire Captain Earth from my weekly anime sessions. While the first episode was absolutely stellar, nothing afterwards has even come close to the magic that episode created. It’s not that the anime is doing anything wrong, it’s just not in any hurry to do anything right. For one, I can not, for the life of me, understand the emphasis on Daichi’s boomerang. Luckily in the most recent episodes, it finally took a back seat, but, like all boomerangs do, it’s bound to come back again. I’m actually not that worked up over that boomerang, honestly. It’s just funny to talk about. What I am worked up over is the fact that this anime has yet to introduce any sense of danger that makes use of the whole “defending earth” scenario. The bad guys have so far amounted to a Jesse and James from Team Rocket clone that haven’t felt threatening at all, considering they were defeated because a building’s camera turrets happened to turn back on.

There was a touching episode about one of the side character’s meeting his father, but even that failed to enthrall me like the first episode did. I expected some emotional impact with the characters combined with the direness of a world-threatening situation, but so far I feel like I’m just living in a house with these kids, and watching them for the sake of nothing. I don’t feel any direction or any sense of purpose for anything yet. Because of that, I simply do not feel like continuing it at this time. I would love to hear that it eventually culminated into something fantastic. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll let more patient people tell me how it turns out as I focus on other anime that actually do keep me coming back.

 

Brynhildr in the Darkness

*Award for best opening song/animation*

Synopsis: Ryouta was responsible for his best friend’s death, whom he had a crush on. Later in life, a new girl arrives at school with an almost identical name, and an entirely identical body. However, she claims she is not her, and instead turns out to be a girl with supernatural powers that is caught up in a desperate situation of her own.

Brynhildr is THIS close to being dropped. It’s doing a lot of things that simply aren’t drawing me in. Chief among these is the main character’s constant mental struggle on figuring out whether this girl is actually the girl he once knew or not. It’s literally more obvious than why the sky is blue at this point, and it’s to the point of frustration now. However, due to my addiction to the opening song, and the fact that there are still a lot of answers out there for the overall mystery, I will probably continue this one to the end of the season. I also want to see if this girl turns out NOT to be the same girl, in which I will eat my words entirely.

So far, what Brynhildr is doing well is creating a rather large mystery that should hook the average viewer to keep chugging through for all the answers. What were these girls given power for? What happens if you push the mysterious button on the top of their Matrix neck thingy? Why is the main character such a doofus about the girl? However, it’s more than the painfully delayed resolution of who the girl is that’s bothering me. The other is the fact that this show seems unnecessarily dark. It’s from the same creator of Elfen Lied, who I can probably say I’m not the biggest fan of at this point. The violence is heightened, but it doesn’t make anything seem better by being so. There’s a difference between just throwing more red ink on the screen for more blood and actually portraying a character’s or scene’s violent nature through the artistic expression of gore. The characters have all been a little on the weak side as well, having some interesting dilemmas, but no personalities that I gravitate towards.

Tonari no Seki-kun

*Award for the most creative student ever*

Synopsis: Seki is a kid who has gained the title “the master of killing time” by using his time in class to do wildly strange and unique activities. All of this is enhanced by Rumi who sits next to him and constantly tries to interpret what he’s doing.

The short anime series continues from a highly enjoyable time last season. Nothing has really changed, and the humor is as present as ever. The situations this time around have involved playing paper sumo in class, trying on glasses till he finds the perfect pair, only to never wear them again, and Rumi’s constant heightened imagination making everything ten times funnier than they actually are. As each episode is only seven minutes, it’s very easy to keep this anime on my watch list. And I am always curious to see what this little deviant will do next!

Knights of Sidonia

*Award for best cinematography*

Synopsis: Sidonia is a floating bastille in space holding human survivors from the destruction of the solar system by the Gauna monsters a millenia ago. Izana is a young man raised in the worst parts of Sidonia who finds himself thrust into training and becoming one of the best new pilots. A pilot that is necessary as the Gauna have finally reappeared.

Sidonia started off with a bang, then didn’t fare to well from there. I had actually dropped it at one point because I didn’t think there was much behind the pretty CG paint. However, I wanted to give it another try because I heard it did get a bit better, and I totally agree. The one thing  that I absolutely sing praises about is the cinematography, or the animation equivalent, because the actions scenes look sublime. While the frame rate due to the heavy CG is hard to look at, I can’t deny that the angles and quick cuts during the battle sequences definitely put a fine layer of gloss over the gritty combat.

The story has yet to “take off” but the development of the world is definitely becoming a bit stronger which is a definite plus for me. While the main character has yet to gain my favor, several of the side characters, most notably Akai’s group, definitely gained my appreciation quickly after they were introduced. Sidonia is a pretty epic anime, drawing similarities to Attack on Titan for it’s humanity vs monsters scenario combined with the rapid death of many characters and the flair for big budgeted action. I wouldn’t say they are too similar in storyline, but one could argue the basic synopsis is the same.

Nanana’s Buried Treasure

*Award for character willing to sacrifice the most to touch a boob*

Synopsis: In a city created by the legendary Nanana, aimed to be a haven for adventures and bright thinkers, Juugo is the newest resident and happens to room with the ghost of Nanana herself. Treasures are hidden around the island paradise by Nanana, each with magnificent powers that Juugo and his new friends set out to find.

This anime is pure adventure at heart which is always a breath of fresh air in the mundane drama and numbing action that usually goes on in the anime industry. Adventure for the sake of adventure was the dream of this paradise, and while this particular adventure has a bit of a motive, it still feels like we are on this journey simply to enjoy it. While I had a hard time liking the main character, and still do, he had one major satisfying plot twist that made me appreciate him a bit more. While a lot of the anime still feels like it’s behind the realm of potential, I still enjoy the pace of a true adventure anime.

The puzzles are obviously the biggest feature of the anime, and they have so far been pretty interesting, but not jaw-dropping. The puzzles sometimes feel a little out of place, but I appreciate that they are going for a “more ways than one” route to solve them. Nanana is the other integral part of this anime, and she is the main source of comic relief. Rather than being a depressed, creepy ghost, she is a bright and cheerful apparition that racks up the electricity bill by playing video games day in and day out. Serious gamer fans would even recognize many of the games she’s playing. While the anime has given enough for me to keep coming back, I don’t see this becoming one I share with others after it’s conclusion unless it kicks it up a notch.

Selector Infected Wixoss

*Award for coolest system of granting wishes*

Synopsis: Ruko is introduced to a new popular card game called Wixoss. She discovers that she is one of the rare players dubbed as a Selector, and if a Selector wins enough matches against other Selectors, then they have their biggest wish granted. But from the outset, something isn’t quite right with this card game…

This anime is a weird mix of having a really impressive synopsis, a likeable main character, and a whole heap of drama that many wouldn’t care for. I am hooked, however, because the plot twists this card game is introducing is truly dark stuff. I really appreciate what this anime is going for, despite not being too impressed with things happening between the important scenes. The card game aesthetics are terrific, and the idea that each Selector has an avatar card with a living fantasy women inside them is cool. But the more they focus on the “rules” of the game, the more the anime falls flat.

The focus that they do nail is the rather unique trait of the main character. While every other Selector has a wish they want granted, Ruko simply doesn’t. They don’t leave it alone at that either, because apparently she has an insatiable lust for battle which is being portrayed as foreboding and bad and I haven’t really seen a main character like that before. The whole idea of her having no wish, but actively battleing other participants which puts her in a deep emotional bind is something I consider quite clever. Unfortunately, the anime has a mess of side characters on it’s hands that aren’t helping anything at all, so I can only hope they can somehow make everything better.

The Irregular at Magic High School

*Award for highest ratio between worst title and coolest anime*

Synopsis: Tatsuya and Miyuki are brother and sister and enroll in the prestigious Magic High School. Despite Tatsuya’s rather secretive and phenomenal magical skills, his incompatibility with the tests place him amongst the lower half students called Weeds while his sister becomes a Bloom, which represents the more skilled half. After their enrollment, big changes start happening in the school that the two become a part of.

I don’t think I’ve ever had more skepticism in watching an anime than this one. I also don’t think I’ve been more pleasantly surprised this season than by this anime. First things first, the main character is a bad ass, and the fight scenes are definitely a cut above the average action anime. Much like Witchcraft Works last season, this is a school anime hiding a much more serious action anime underneath it’s generic facade. The school system is actually rather serious, and it’s much more about the exaggerated politics of this school and the discrimination between the Weeds and the Blooms.

What the anime then introduces after a couple episodes is a story much larger than the high school, and more about the state of magic users of the world in general. While we haven’t yet seen what lies outside of the school, we’ve definitely been introduced to a lot of the major players in the world thanks to a good helping of dialogue. Also let me reiterate that Tatsuya, who is now involved with this bigger story, is past the point of bad-ass and is in the realm of God like. We have yet to see the full extent of his power besides a wake of destruction teased at the beginning of the first episode. While I’m not sold on the story yet, I definitely like the time they took to ground these characters into their setting and the fact that this is, at least, a serious school setting.

Fairy Tail 2

*Award for highest amount of great characters per episode*

Synopsis: In the current arc of this fantasy saga, Fairy Tail is competing in a tournament with all the other big guilds to reclaim their lost position as the number one guild in the world. Meanwhile, the city government is toiling away at a plan to rid the world of one of the most evil wizards in history.

When pretty much every character in the anime’s history is competing in a tournament, and the anime is already known for having some of  the best character moments, there’s bound to be someone you like. Fairy Tail has a pretty large cast at this point, and they keep introducing more and more. Thanks to Fairy Tail’s consistent, and amazing use of “the feels” I am attached to a large portion of these characters. This isn’t the character you love fighting against the character you hate. This tournament is all picking favorites because chances are you like most of them.

On the other end, we have the story which is taking a rather epic turn. We’re finally delving into the dragons teased since the very first episode, and it’s been an enlightening experience to finally learn about the history of the world and the dragons in particular. On top of that, the series opened with a frightening look at what looks like an onslaught of dragons roaming over an annihilated city, that seems to be an event still shrouded in the future. Everyone has been awaiting the return of this mega-popular anime, and despite a small art change, it’s back in full force

Black Bullet

*Award for fastest introduction of a villain and their intent, ever.*

Synopsis: In a dystopian modern world ravaged by monsters called Gaestra, children born from the Gaestra infection are the new generation of saviors armed with supernatural powers to fight the Geastra threatening humanity. Rentaro is a high-tier security officer who happens to harbor a unique soft spot for the infected children who gets thrown into a political battle against Geastra, and certain members of humanity itself.

This was the anime that you could quote me on saying “my most anticipated new anime of the season,” but after one messy first episode, I almost dropped it. However, I stuck with it out of faith for the director who I desperately hoped wouldn’t let it end on such a bad first impression. To a large extent, this anime fortunately turned into much more than what the first episode promised, and is almost to the point of what I hoped for. First off, this anime isn’t all about the monsters. In fact, they were hardly mentioned in the last few episodes. This is a good thing as they provide a much better backdrop than an active plot point. What has been transpiring is a much more entertaining societal intrigue using different powerful humans with different goals each trying to make their way in the reconstruction of this bleak world.

The other thing I have to give major props for is crafting a wholly entertaining villain who kicked things off from episode one and continued to be a mysterious presence that kept my interest. The last few episodes have delved further into the main character and how he is getting thrown into increasingly dangerous situations with stronger enemies each time. The show doesn’t forget to show the soft side of Rentaro who harbors a fatherly nature towards the discrimated infected children. It’s a nice contrast to the bleak setting that could prove weary without such focus. So far, the anime has been on the upswing, not delivering a single disappointing episode since the first one. It’s soundtrack is incredible, and probably my favorite of the season. The action has taken a back seat, and what instead has been happening is pretty constant progression of the main character, and demonstrating who he is, and what his role in the story will ultimately become, all of which is looking very promising so far.

Chaika: Coffin Princess

*Award for best action choreography*

Synopsis: Toru is a retired saboteur soldier living in a post-war fantasy world where magic is uncommon, but not unheard of. He meets Chaika, a self proclaimed princess with a coffin on her back carrying her massive magic sniper-rifle. Toru and his sister decide to work in her employ as they travel the world in search of certain relics important to Chaika herself.

Chaika: Coffin Princess is severely underrated, and every episode has been great with absolutely no hiccups from the beginning to where it is now. Everything from frenetic action scenes, great world-building, and well-timed humor make this a rather all-encompassing show. While nothing blows me away, I can’t find anything I particularly dislike about this anime. It’s wholly enjoyable and that’s what really matters. Based on the synopsis, this should have been a failure. I had incredibly high doubts that this show could be captivating in any way, but it has consistently proven me wrong.

The Coffin Princess, first off, isn’t the annoying loli I thought she’d be. She’s actually a competent member of the team and despite some clumsiness, is a great fighter as well. The fight scenes are definitely the highlight for me. They are fast-paced, but not short lived. The weapons are refreshingly creative, having everything from knives with ropes hidden in the hilts to throwing knives with time bombs attached to them. Each action scene has been a mix of quick-thinking, cunningness, strategy, and pure spectacle of the brawl. Anyone who appreciates action would actually love these fight scenes. I think the thing that makes the action scenes the best is that there are no shouts of ability names, nor does it freeze the action constantly to show characters noticing every trick the fight throws out. It lets the audience see for themselves just how clever the fight is without having characters walk you through them. Finally, for being a rather serious adventure anime, the comedy is pretty consistent, and spot on. It shows the makings of a truly wonderful adventure anime, that just needs to amp it up a little more to become something truly fantastic.

No Game No Life

*Award for best new main characters*

Synopsis: Blank is the nickname of the undefeated gaming team that has taken the world by storm. The truth is, this team is simply a duo of a brother, Sora, and younger sister, Shiro, who have an unshakeable bond with each other. Because of their skills, they are recognized by a god from another realm who has created a world where the act of betting and winning a game decides everything. This god invites them to the world, in which the duo decide to make their new home.

Dear god is this anime ridiculous, and awesome. One part psychologically charged to astronomical proportions, one part inducer of laughing fits, and one part charming portrayal of a sibling bond, this anime is easily the highlight of the new anime this season. While I personally prefer only one other new anime over this one, I might as well consider them tied because I am also confident in saying that this is the best new anime of the season as well. Sora and Shiro have instantly become the two coolest characters on this side of the season, and each episode has shown just how clever this unbeatable team really is.

This anime is all about the games. Any doubters were definitely hushed up when they made a Skyrim reference at the end of today’s episode. The games have turned out to be much more than just video games, as I initially thought they would be. Anything is a game. From “guess how long until the birds decide to fly,” to something that finally trumped the spectacle of Wizard’s Chess in Harry Potter. On top of that, this God character, named Tet, is now my most anticipated cosplay to see during the con season here in Florida this fall.

One Week Friends

*Award for the most “feelz” of the season*

Synopsis: Yuuki attempts to befriend Kaori only to learn that she loses her memory of her friends every week, which explains why she’s always alone. Yuuki, then takes the unprecedented step of promising to become her new friend, every week, no matter what it takes.

The synopsis alone should already have you going “aww” and watching the anime definitely makes you do that ten times as much. Many people have simply described this as “Fifty First Dates” in anime form. While that’s appropriate to describe the basic plot, once you watch it, there’s a lot more to like about it than the Adam Sandler movie we compare it to. For one, the story is no longer about “the couple.” It’s about her, and everyone around her. It’s about how different types of people can be useful in their own special way. It’s incredibly realistic in this sense, and deserves credit for that. Yuuki is definitely special and important to her, but he can’t give her everything she needs. Yuuki’s friend is unforgivingly blunt, but this helps her see things that Yuuki is too kind to say. Another girl comes along and shows her that’s it’s ok to be forgetful, and open up to others.

The anime has become something much more “real” and uses brilliant character archetypes to thrust Kaori into multiple situations that she needs to experience if she truly wants to live a happy life. One thing I’m thankful for is that all of the emotional moments have come from clever writing and pure character heart. I feel it would have been easy to write in a couple bullies that hassled her, but that’s very cliche, and the anime does it’s own job of making her experience seem harrowing purely from her own actions. This anime is an absolute gem with a warm and fuzzy art style that just makes this whole damn anime feel like it’s suffocating your heart.

Hunter X Hunter

*Award for best anime fight of the season*

Synopsis: Gon has set off on a journey to discover what it means to be a Hunter. In the current arc, he is emotionally invested in the battle between the rapidly evolving chimera ants, and humanity which has set him on the darkest turn yet, in his long and insightful journey.

Sure, Chaika has some clever fight scenes, but what Hunter X Hunter did with Netero and the Ant King was beyond sublime. It was, for lack of a better word, perfect. A masterfully psychological fight that symbolized the strengths of humanity versus the strength of the creatures seeking to dethrone mankind. It was absolutely stellar. The way the fight was a battle of strategy, wits, dialogue, and strength. Every facet I want explored in a climactic fight was done so beautifully. The best part…this is only part one of the double climax of this arc because everyone, literally EVERYONE, watching this anime is waiting with bated breath on Gon’s fight. Gon Freecs has made an incredible journey, and his darkest moments are about to ignite something no Hunter X Hunter anime follower has seen thus far.

While this season is still continuing the palace invasion scene from last season, it has not dropped in quality at all. The amazing character development, impeccable writing, and breathtaking drama are still in full force making this one of the most impactful anime arcs I’ve ever seen. While the one and only complaint I think I’ve ever had with Hunter X Hunter did resurface last week (which is the overdosage or erotic reactions to non-erotic things) that’s an almost unseen percentile compared to everything I have consistently loved about this anime.

Mushishi Season 2: Zoku Shou

*Award for cracking the top ten overall anime of all time on both Anime Planet and My Anime List*

Synopsis: Mushi are abstract entities that live on the edge of existence who’s nature afflicts random condition on the human world. Ginko is a traveler and doctor of sorts with the rare ability to see the Mushi, who spends his life helping people overcome situations involving them.

I knew that I was personally going to love Mushishi more than anything this season. Ever since I watched the first one, it has remained my favorite anime of all time because I feel like it displayed what I personally wanted to see in anime the most, which was creative and serious storytelling in a fantasy world. Mushishi was perfect for me in that sense because every episode is a new story with new characters and a striking fantasy element applied to it. I didn’t expect the anime to be so unanimously well-received as I saw it slowly rise from the thirties, the twenties, and now the top ten anime of not just the season, but of all time on the two most popular anime ranking websites.

I’m not hear to tell you why they all love it though. Honestly, I couldn’t because I still have trouble recommending this anime to people. I can say that my reasons for loving it are because I think this anime is the most beautiful animated series I’ve ever seen. It’s stories are so full of expression of human emotion and wisdom of human nature that I feel like it’s a privilege to watch each episode. Almost as if the stories were earned, and by hearing them, I become stronger and wiser in my emotions and nature as well. This new season has continued what I love about the last one, but even more so, I’m enjoying it to a greater extent than the last one! The tranquil and evocative artwork lends itself to the calm, mellow storytelling to create a truly relaxing and wondrous experience with each episode. Mind you, there’s still some tonal variety with some episodes being incredibly dark, while others are blissfully uplifting and bright. That flexibility only highlights what I love about Mushishi, and I’m just so very glad it’s back after almost 9 years of discontinuation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What a fantastic season this is going to be. I am looking forward to the second half of this season with more anticipation than I can handle. More wondrous and mythical Mushishi stories, more of the gripping narrative from Hunter X Hunter, more hilarious and over the top antics with Sora and Shiro in No Game No Life,  more heartwarming drama with One Week Friends, and ultimately, just more freaking good anime! See ya next time! And as always, thank you for reading. It always means the world to me to see anyone who takes time out of their life to read a bit about mine.

 

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